Room Full of Mirrors, Probir Gupta's solo in Kolkata, after a lengthy hiatus, is a complex, encrusted offering.
The exhibition site assembles recent works and important pieces from the last decade. Gupta is a migrant at heart, an itinerant dividing time between continents. France is his home away from home, a space that has informed his artistic affinities and lexicon. For instance, his iconic The Raft: In Memory of Gericault and Noah from 2018-19 depicts a woman of African heritage holding an older white woman to the chest. Based on a photograph taken by Gupta on the historic Pont Neuf bridge in Paris, it transcends the politics of colourism and underscores peace and hope. Similar examples of specific events, observations, people and places appear throughout his oeuvre. A profound storyteller, Gupta can pinpoint every work's point of departure, yet, in each instance, the experiential journey masterfully negotiates its way from the particular to the universal, serving as an anagnorisis or profound moment of revelation.
While his artistic vocabulary and political outlook flourished in Paris and Delhi, the artist is deeply connected to Kolkata, his birthplace and a city whose rich history and vernacular cosmopolitan life shaped his young mind. Gupta has created works in his Kolkata studio for over a year, coalescing locus and material as a homage to the city. The Spine is one of the sculptures he has made here, working with local woodworkers and young artists to create a segmented metameric creature; the repetitive analogous forms are possibly a symbolic ode to the hands and legs buttressing the pillars of social order. Most of his works in the exhibition draw attention to various humanitarian issues, from local riots and illegal baby trade to the Arab Spring uprisings and, more recently, migrant displacement. Intensely political, these works foster critical dialogue about conflicts, disasters, violence and oppression - a metaphorical mirror reflecting the surrounding world of human resilience and resistance in the face of erasures and anguish.
His paintings and installations have a meticulous rigour; their large imposing scale or structures incorporate diverse materials, methods, and objects giving his work a rare polysemic quality and objecthood. The sheer physicality, a rich, seductive accretion of paint, and a montage of heterogeneous imagery that congests the picture plane, entrapping the viewers and compelling them to interact viscerally, are all hallmarks of Gupta's mastery over his medium. Dispensing linear discourse and a representational approach, he captures a profound sense of anomie and foreboding anxiety through a deeply internalized, experimental language. Probir Gupta defies conventions and wrests critical forms out of amorphous moments by approaching his art similar to the jazz music he loves and performs -syncopated, polyphonous, improvisational, and often deliberately distorted.
Born in Kolkata in 1960, Probir Gupta studied painting at the Government College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata, graduating in 1981 and Ecole Nationale Superiere de Beaux-arts, Paris, on a two-year French Government scholarship in 1982 and continued to live and work in France till 1987.
His first solo exhibition in France was held in Caen, Normandie, in 1984, followed by a significant exhibition of his works at Palais Des Beaux-arts, Brussels, in 1986. His selected solo exhibitions include Family is Plural at Bikaner House, New Delhi; Desert Scrap at Nature Morte, Berlin, 2010; Probir Gupta at Alexia Goethe Gallery, London, 2008; At Half Mast at Bose Pacia, Kolkata, India, 2007; To Whomsoever it May Concern at Bodhi Art, New York 2007; Found Objects at Anant Art Gallery at the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata 2007; The Nymph and the Adult at Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2002; among several others.
He has participated in seminal national and international exhibitions, art fairs and biennales. His work has been featured in Kochi Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India in 2018-19, Busan Biennale, South Korea in 2016; The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today at The Saatchi Gallery, London, 2010; 4th St. Petersburg International Biennale of Contemporary Art at Manege Central Exhibition Hall, St. Petersburg, Russia (1999) and Homage to ARTAUD by 20 Contemporary artists, Eicher Gallery, New Delhi (1997). Shaheen Merali chose his work in his three curated shows, Fragile Hands at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna, Austria; When Violence Becomes Decadent at Freies Museum, Berlin (2014) and The Indian Parallax at Birla Academy Kolkata (2012). Probir Gupta lives and works in New Delhi.
- Ushmita Sahu